2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Review

Friday November 24th, 2017 at 10:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

Hypes: Handsome Design, Livable Interior, 51 Cubic Feet of Space
Gripes: Lethargic Grunt, No Paddle Shifts, Rock Hard Rubber

Back in July, 2017 I road tested a 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport with the new 201hp 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine. This engine drove 195lb.-ft. of torque through a 6 speed manual transmission and 18 inch alloy wheels. In concluding that review, I said “This is one sport sedan that lives up to its billing…the only real challenger to this car is the VW GTI, which is substantially more expensive and less reliable.” Now along comes this 2018 version of the Elantra, in GT rather than Sport trim. It’s a package that is notably less scintillating to drive. The main problem lies under the hood, where a naturally aspirated 2.0 liter engine produces just 161hp and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. Not only is this engine 40hp short of the Sport’s turbo motor, but also 12hp and 4lb.-ft. short of the same 2.0 liter base motor for 2017. About the only thing that does improve for 2018 is fuel economy: you now get 24 MPG city/32 MPG highway (versus 22 city/30 highway for the turbo).

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

Instead of the slick 6 speed manual gearbox in the Sport, the GT makes do with a 6-speed automatic transmission without paddle shifts at the steering wheel. Although the automatic can be controlled manually by slotting the floor mounted stick into a separate gate, you never enjoy the kind of direct and predictable control that paddles contribute. The final differentiating factor in the Sport versus GT comparison occurs at the contact patch of the tires. The GT mounts 225/45R17 Nexen Npriz rubber at each corner. This is a mud and snow rated all season choice that eschews traction in favor of tread longevity. Push the GT hard into a tight apex and the Npriz front tires lose grip and start to squeal in protest. This behavior is just the opposite of the 18 inch Hankook Ventus tires on the much grippier Elantra Sport tested earlier.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

However, if you are not an enthusiast driver, but are searching for a reliable, sporty looking mode of transportation, none of the foregoing should dissuade you from buying a new Elantra GT. For starters, this Korean import looks great from any angle, even directly overhead, a flattering perspective I discovered when photographing the GT. From an aesthetic standpoint, there’s not a single objectionable line marring this Hyundai. Overall design flows from stem to stern with grace and elegance. Not only does the GT look good, but the svelte contours belie its unexpected practicality. You can actually carry four or five full size adults in comfort thanks to doors that open wide front and rear, seats that provide cushioning as well as support, and windows that promote excellent vision to the front, sides and rear. On top of superior people packaging, the GT also provides hatchback utility thanks to its tailgate rear door. The 60/40 fold down rear seat allows you to store as much as 51 cubic feet of goods inside those trim contours, an abundance that exceeds the storage available in category competitors like the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and VW Golf.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

If you are lucky enough to find a stripper Elantra at your Hyundai dealer, you’ll pay just $20,350 for this model, plus $885 for freight and handling. But as you might expect for a vehicle consigned to the press fleet, our test model was somewhat more lavishly equipped, with an $1,800 “Style Package” and a $4,300 “Tech Package” that brought the all-in cost of the GT to $27,460. Being a minimalist type, I could have definitely done without the Style Package’s passive safety additions like Blind Spot/Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Side Mirror Turn Indicators. Since this is such a small car with such large windows, you ought to be able to take care of vision issues with your own eyes. Unfortunately, without the Style Package, you lose the nice leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob of our test vehicle. The Tech Package, on the other hand, is probably worth the considerable extra investment because it gives you Leather Seats, Navigation System with 8 inch screen, Electric Parking Brake, Panoramic Sunroof, and active safety measures like LED head and tail lights.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

Even at the fully equipped test car price of $27,460, the Hyundai Elantra GT remains a bargain in the bigger picture. If you have minimal interest in sporty driving, then this modest performer will fill the practicality bill to a GT.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 161hp
  • Torque: 150lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/32 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,460
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Hyundai |Tags:, , || No Comments »


2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan Review

Thursday November 23rd, 2017 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

Hypes: Plush and Tasteful Living Room
Gripes: No paddles, Oversensitive Console-Mounted GUI

What happens when you dress a Toyota Camry for the prom? You get a Lexus ES350.
Both sedans share the same basic architecture. Front engine, front wheel drive, V6 power, 72 inch width, 57 inch height and 111 inch wheelbase. In other words, a commodious transport cell for five adults for a reasonable outlay of cash.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

Base price for the 2017 Toyota Camry runs from $24,000-$31,000, while the Lexus ES350 ranges from $39,000-$42,000. Our test Lexus started out costing $38,900. The full prom dress up kit, however, boosts the bottom line rather dramatically.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

Lexus adds $500 for Blind Spot Monitor with Cross Traffic Alert, $880 for High Gloss Finish 18″ Wheels, $2,590 for Navigation System/Mark Levinson Premium Audio, $400 for a One-Touch Power Trunk, $500 for Intuitive Parking Assist, $450 for a Heated Wood and Leather Trimmed Steering Wheel, and $3,500 for the Ultra Luxury Package (Wood Trim Interior, Driver and Passenger Memory Seats, Power Rear and Manual Door Sunshades, Driver Seat Power Cushion Extender, Ambient Lighting, Power Tilt/Telescope Steering Wheel, Panorama Glass Power Moonroof).

The bad news is that all those additions bring your out-the-door tally to $49,210. The good news is that, yes, you do get to keep the tuxedo.

Notice that aside from the 18″ wheel upgrade, all of the aforementioned options are luxury rather than performance oriented. To be sure, the gilded ES350 will never be confused with a sports sedan. It’s simply too big and softly sprung for that kind of serious work. In fact, Lexus underscores the point by failing to offer an F Sport package for the ES model line. It’s the only Lexus sedan without F Sport availability. But unless you plan on hunting BMWs and Audis, that shouldn’t deter you from giving this Lexus a long hard look.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

If Ward Cleaver, paterfamilias of the 50s TV show Leave It To Beaver, were to choose a family sedan today, he would unquestionably pick the Lexus ES350. It is handsome in a quiet, understated way. It performs every task with panache and good grace. It is expensive, but not overpriced. Indeed, it’s the All American family sedan.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

The exterior design will win no awards from those seeking cutting edge styling. But for many, that lack of flare is the very source of its visual appeal. The ES350 is like a well tailored suit – inconspicuous because it fits so well. The interior of our test Lexus blends a handsome array of deeply grained real wood trim with carefully stitched dash detailing to make your cabin time restful and rewarding. This is a most welcoming interior, one you are loathe to leave upon arrival at your destination. Lexus has a way of imparting travel serenity with the ES350 that Toyota will never match in any Camry.

Despite the fact that no F Sport version is available, the ES350 offers perfectly acceptable performance. It’s all-aluminum 268hp V6 is highly sophisticated, with 24 intake and exhaust valves that benefit from variable phasing (Dual VVT-i). Indeed, when you lay hard into the throttle of this lightweight alloy motor, the ES350 jumps forward with satisfying thrust accompanied by an appropriately muted exhaust shriek. A proper 6-speed automatic gearbox features sport-shift setting on the floor mounted stick, but lacks paddles at the steering wheel. The 18″ wheel upgrade is well worth the $880 price because it replaces the standard 215/55R17 all-season tires with beefier, lower profile Michelin MXM4 Primacy rubber (225/45R18) – a noticeable performance upgrade.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

For 2018, Toyota is introducing an all new Camry TNGA platform which will eventually underpin the Lexus ES350 as well. When that switch-over is imminent, you will be able to carve a great deal on the existing ES350, which continues into 2018 unchanged for the time being.

2017 Lexus ES350 4 Door Sedan

  • Engine: 3.5liter V6, 24 valves with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 268hp
  • Torque: 248lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $49,210
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD Review

Wednesday November 22nd, 2017 at 9:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

Hypes: A Great Pack Horse, Modestly Priced
Gripes: Cumbersome Handling

For 2017, Toyota undertook a major overhaul of the Highlander. The most visible change is to the front sheet metal. Toyota stylists replaced the previous version’s small one piece grill with a much larger triangular two-piece intake. The enlarged grill endows the Highlander with a more imposing face. Side slots housing fog lights are reoriented from horizontal to vertical, further emphasizing the height of the new grill. Behind the grill lies a newly revamped 3.5 liter V6 which boasts direct fuel injection rather than port injection. This engine produces 295hp and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. Also new for 2017 is an 8-speed automatic transmission (up from the previous model’s 6-speed). The two extra gear sets improve fuel economy by reducing engine rpm at highway cruising speed. Where the previous Highlander returned 18 MPG/24 MPG, the new V6/8-Speed combo yields 20 MPG in city driving, 26 MPG in highway mode and 22 MPG overall.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

One reason for the Highlander’s continued popularity is its utilitarian configuration. This is a truly useful 3 row seating design. If you chose a second row bench, you can carry 7 people in the Highlander’s sizeable interior. Our test model , however, sported very comfortable second row Captain’s Chairs which reduced total seating to 6. These second row chairs slide fore and aft to permit easy access to the third row seats. Our test vehicle also included an $1,810 rear seat BlueRay DVD entertainment system. This unit provides headphones as well as a remote control box. Note that when the DVD player is swung down for use, its screen blocks rear view mirror vision for the driver.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

If you flip and fold all seats down – a relatively painless procedure – you generate 40.5 cubic feet of interior storage space. In anticipation of a trip to Home Depot for some wood, I placed a tape measure inside the Highlander and discovered enough front-to-rear interior space to accommodate a 7′ long piece of timber. If you need to transport longer material, you can run with the tailgate down, or simply flip the rear tailgate window up while leaving the lower door upright. The Highlander is also tow rated at 5,000 pounds, so its utilitarian portfolio is quite complete.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

About the only thing this Toyota fails to provide is fun behind the wheel. Although the Highlander’s window sticker claims that this crossover is fitted with a “Sport Tuned” suspension, the Highlander is just too heavy (4,570 lbs.) and too big (191 in. long) to generate anything resembling sporting performance. To its credit, Toyota provides rather hefty contact patches at the road, with 245/55R19 Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires at each corner. But the suspension is rather flaccid as it pitches from side to side through switchbacks. The 295hp engine, with its middling power to weight ratio of 15.5lb/hp, is hard pressed to provide significant acceleration, even when you hammer the throttle with that 8-speed transmission locked in second or third gear for maximum thrust.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

Also new for 2017 is the inclusion of Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of warning devices and collision avoidance mechanisms. Some of the highlights include pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert (LDA) with steering assist, dynamic cruise control and “automatic high beams.” I turned off the LDA, as I tend to pay close attention to adjacent traffic. The radar cruise control operated smoothly and unobtrusively, offering 3 different car length settings for following distance. Even the one-car-length setting, however, dropped the Highlander at least 3 car lengths behind the nearest car or truck, which provided other drivers the unwelcome opportunity to chop in front of the Highlander.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

But the automatic high beams proved perplexing. On my first night drive in this Toyota, I found I could not activate the high beams when I needed them. I later discovered that a dash button had been depressed to activate the automatic high beam feature, which “uses a camera sensor behind the upper portion of the windshield to assess the brightness of the lights of vehicles ahead, streetlights, etc., and automatically turns the high beams on and off as necessary.” This so-called “Safety Sense” feature, which countermanded my own decision making process, should be permanently deleted. In the big picture of Highlander ownership, though, it’s a minor speed bump on a long fast stretch of highway.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE V6 AWD

  • Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 D4S engine with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 290hp
  • Torque: 268lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,900
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC Review

Monday November 13th, 2017 at 4:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

Hypes: Elevated Cabin Yields Great Sightlines
Gripes: Weak Engine, Queasy Gearbox

The most significant number about this Outlander isn’t the seats (7), doors (4) cylinders (4) or gears (0 – it’s a CVT). Rather the digit to remember is 21.7. That’s the number of pounds each horsepower is tasked with carting around in this compact SUV. The higher the number the worse the performance. Dividing the Outlander’s curb weight of 3,610 pounds by the 166hp of its 4 cylinder engine yields the aforementioned 21.7lb/hp, a figure high enough to guarantee mediocre straight line performance. That CVT transmission is no help either, since it doesn’t allow you to select ratio ranges with its floor-mounted lever. Paddles are not offered to remedy the problem either.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

But help is available if you opt for the 224hp V6, which significantly improves the power to weight ratio to 16.1 lb/hp. While the 23MPG overall fuel consumption of the V6 falls short of the four’s 26MPG rating, the tradeoff in performance is well worth the extra tab for gas. The V6 will jet the Outlander from 0-60mph in just 7.4 seconds versus 9.2 for the 166hp inline four. In both cases, however, you’re still stuck with the same non-responsive CVT transmission.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

Aside from power train considerations, the Outlander presents a tidy and appealing package for family use. At the top of the list of attributes are those 7 available seats, a surprise bounty in any compact SUV. The two tail gunner seats are admittedly difficult to access, and tightly configured. But this extra duet is perfect for occasional usage, and folds neatly out of the way when unneeded. The second row also folds flat with ease, making the interior of the Outlander good for 32.5 cubic feet of storage space. We were able to slide a full size bike into that interior shelf. Just push the button to automatically swing the rear tailgate down. Note that the comparatively narrow (71 inch) width of this SUV made loading and unloading the bike more of a chore than you would expect.

The 2018 Outlander keeps pace with recent safety upgrades if you order the SEL Touring Package, a $3,000 option. This group includes the following driver assistance features: forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beam. The Touring Package also provides a sizeable tilt/slide sunroof, a 710 watt Rockford Fosgate Premium Audio System with 9 speakers, a multi-view camera system, a heated steering wheel, plus LED headlights and fog lights.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

3 Stage heated front seats are already standard fitment on the Outlander, so the toasty steering wheel completes the heat source. The adaptive cruise control proved rather herky-jerky on extended freeway runs, constantly speeding up, then applying the brakes. The lane departure warning (LDW) proved difficult to muzzle. Although there’s a switch on the lower dash ostensibly provided to deactivate LDW, the system constantly reactivates when you restart the Outlander. If you love annoying and unnecessary alert chirps, you’ll appreciate this feature. Even if you don’t order the optional SEL Touring Package, Mitsubishi still provides your Outlander with lots of standard on board safety technology, including Blind Spot Warning (BSW) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Lane Change Assist (LCA).

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

But because of sound cabin design, most of these acronym warning systems are superfluous. The best part of the Outlander’s design is its commanding full view seating position. Even with the interior of our test vehicle upholstered in basic black, the cabin proved airy, expansive, and comforting. In particular, the new-for-2018, 7-inch display terminal on the dash is easy to decipher in all light situations, and a breeze to program for your free 3 month subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. Best of all, Mitsubishi has resisted the impulse to lump all critical HVAC system settings into screen programming menus. Much to my relief, this dashboard still contains clearly marked, separate buttons for temperature settings, fan speed, and air placement.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

Handling of this Mitsubishi is predictable, with a low threshold of cornering speed. The fitted Toyo A24 tires (225/55R18) do little to generate grip. Push the Outlander hard in a turn and you quickly discover that soft springing and hard tires conspire to provide lots of initial understeer. But though it might lack sporting accolades, the mildly revised 2018 Outlander remains a viable and affordable alternative in the compact SUV field – provided you ditch the anemic 4 cylinder engine in favor of the available V6.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC

  • Engine: 2.4 liter inline 4, SOHC, 16 Valves
  • Horsepower: 166hp
  • Torque: 162lb./ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,280
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Kia Forte5 SX Review

Sunday October 22nd, 2017 at 2:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Hypes: The Korean Version of the VW GTI
Gripes: Suspension Could Stand Slight Stiffening

The Kia Forte we drove had 4 cylinders, 5 doors and 6 speeds. All those elements combined to make it number 1 – the best compact sport sedan we have driven so far in 2017. From the outside, the Forte5 is a stunning looker, thanks to the rake produced by a low nose and high tail. Finely chiseled upper and lower belt lines accentuate the illusion of forward motion. A bold red stripe across the face of the piano black grill confers a sportiness reinforced by red bolstered deep bucket seats. This Kia impresses you up front with its alluring design, and the promise of high performance. In practice, the Forte5 does not disappoint.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Under the hood lies a turbocharged , direct gas injection, 4 cylinder engine displacing just 1.6 liters. This sideways mounted motor returns exceptionally good mileage, with an overall EPA rating of 25MPG. More important for enthusiast drivers, the little stormer really puts out the power, with 201hp enough to chirp the driven front wheels all the way through first gear. The acceleration doesn’t let up as you snick the 6-speed manual through its precisely designated slots. Kia has wisely chosen closely spaced gear ratios, with rpm drops of 500 or less as you upshift through the range. As a result, the Forte5 competently completes any passing maneuver you care to attempt, and proves especially strong at merging with freeway traffic.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

The Forte5 is a Korean designed car. However, it is built in Pesqueria, NL, Mexico. Of the major components used in its construction, only the gearbox actually comes from Korea. Build quality is excellent, with interior seams that match perfectly, doors that shut cleanly with a resounding thunk, and high class materials used throughout. In fact, it should come as no surprise that the Forte model line, along with other Kia vehicles, has won the J.D. Power award for “Best Initial Quality” 2 years in a row. In addition to such celebrated delivery chops, this Kia also carries a 5 year/60,000 mile Limited Basic Warranty, a similar Roadside Assistance package, and 10 Year/100,00 mile Limited Powertra1n Warranty.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

In addition to this long term practicality, the Forte5 also offers plenty of useful travel configurations thanks to that fifth door tailgate/hatchback. You can drop the rear seats flat for 15 cubic feet of interior storage, or with the seats elevated, carry 4 adults with their belongings hidden inside the fully covered trunk space. The Forte5 is really a best- of-both-worlds design solution, with a tailgate which does not suffer from the fishbowl display shortcomings of a true hatchback.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

This turbocharged, manual transmission Kia is an absolute blast to drive. Start at the contact patch, provided by 225/40R18 Nexen CP671 rubber mounted on cleanly styled 18 inch alloy rims. Kia has selected a “Sport-Tuned Suspension” for the Forte5 that maintains a careful balance between comfort and adhesion. The bias here is on the soft side, which results in some slight pitch and wallow over major bumps taken at speed. But overall, the net effect is positive, and you can be thankful that this Kia will not beat you up every day with an unduly harsh ride.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

If you do select the manual transmission we enjoyed, you will also appreciate the fact that it offers hill-start control. This feature prevents the Forte from sliding backwards as you endeavor to find the clutch engagement point. Even though our test car had logged nearly 5,000 miles, clutch engagement was always crisp and predictable. The gear synchronizers likewise operated with seamless engagement, and it was never a challenge to find the right slot for the right gear. A lift-up ring below the shift knob needs to be raised to engage reverse gear, an easy operation that prevents mistaken selection of reverse.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Steering is pleasurable thanks to the deftly contoured, flat bottomed, racing type steering wheel. While its spokes are festooned with the usual array of Bluetooth/Audio/Cruise controls, the wheel itself feels just right when you are carving apexes with those sticky Nexen tires. Steering feedback is exceptional, and the Forte responds to every twitch with an equivalent change in direction. This is way more response than you would expect from a 5 door family sedan costing just $27,020 all in.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4 turbocharged with gas direct injection
  • Horsepower: 201hp
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,020
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Kia |Tags:, , , || No Comments »


2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4×4 DBL. Cab Review

Saturday October 21st, 2017 at 2:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Hypes: Rugged Old School Pickup
Gripes: Needs Hydraulic Hood Prop

Opt for the TRD PRO version of the Tacoma compact pickup and you’ve got a military spec off-roader that will out-butch everything but a monster truck. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) is hardly a newcomer to assaults on Baja, or the urban jungle for that matter. TRD trucks have been running and winning the Baja 1000 for decades, and the breeding that goes into making the Tacoma competitive there shows everywhere you look here. First, there’s the truck’s sky high ride height which necessitates a healthy jump step to insert yourself in the cab. Next, there’s the no-nonsense look of this “Cement” colored brute. With its monochromatic grey paint highlighted only by “TRD PRO” informational placards on the flanks, this Tacoma stands ready to battle the toughest terrain you can throw at it.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

To that end, Toyota equips it with black alloy rims highlighted by red TRD center caps. On each rim you will find a 265/70R 16 Goodyear Wrangler off-road tire with more writing on its sidewall than a Dead Sea Scroll. The most pertinent notice concerns the wear rating (WR) of these Kevlar-reinforced Goodyears. With a WR of 640, you can bet these tires will take a real pounding while enjoying a long tenure on your Tacoma. You can also expect them to afford less than sticky traction on hard shell pavement, since their compound lies at the rock end of the tire wear spectrum. I found this out first hand when I pitched the TRD PRO into a tight turn. The front tires lost traction, and the truck washed out in understeer. Caution is essential when driving this Tacoma on pavement. In the dirt, however, no impediment is too great for this race bred package.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Up front you’ll find a bullet proof TRD branded skid plate, which is easily seen because the TRD sits so high off the ground. Also a pair of sly looking Rigid Industries LED fog lamps. Do a walk around and you can peer into all four wheel wells and admire the structural soundness of the frame rails, the immense solidity of the TRD racing shock absorbers wrapped in coil springs, and the massive size of the front anti-sway bar and its drop links. Of course all this super size componentry affords the stiffest ride you can imagine. The TRD hops and bounces like a thoroughbred stallion kicking the stall at post time. Once you get acclimated to the handling idiosyncrasies of this Tacoma, it’s really a blast to drive. Its handling is so direct and elemental that nothing cushions or decompresses the joy of driving it. What you see is very much what you get. There are few vehicles left for sale as honest and straightforward as the TRD PRO, so enjoy this breath of fresh air.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

Like the ride, the interior too is uncomplicated, and as useful as a work boot from Acme. The dash is delightfully straightforward in an old fashioned way. There are big fat knobs for every vital HVAC function, and a useful 7 inch touchscreen for audio and navigation override. The seats slide and tilt with manual controls, but they are thoughtfully equipped (up front) with 3-stage heaters. There’s an electrically operated center rear window at the back of the cab, should you need to carry items longer than the 6 foot bed will accommodate. The back seats also flip and fold against the front seats, so you can easily convert unused cab space into additional storage room.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The 3.5 liter V6 engine, which produces 278hp, sounds off through a TRD exhaust system that issues a guttural blat when you nail the throttle. The engine has enough torque (265lb.-ft.) to tow a trailer weighing 6,400 pounds, and the TRD comes equipped with a proper receiver hitch plus all the ancillaries needed to cool the driveline when towing: Automatic Transmission Fluid cooler, Power Steering cooler, Engine Oil cooler, plus a 130 Ampere Hour alternator. 4 Wheel Drive is available either full time or part time, and Toyota supplies the TRD PRO with an electronically controlled transfer case and a limited slip differential. It’s hard to imagine an on- or off-road situation that would stymie this truck.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO 4x4 DBL. Cab

The TRD PRO version of the Tacoma pickup looks like a Baja winner. About the only phony note to its cowboy get-up is the hood scoop which doesn’t actually vent cold air into the engine room. That’s a mighty small complaint list for a very fetching truck.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with Dual VVT-i and TRD Exhaust
  • Horsepower: 278hp
  • Torque: 268lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 18MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,042
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Toyota |Tags:, , || No Comments »


2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Review

Friday October 20th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

Hypes: Best Headlights Ever, Massage Front Seats
Gripes: iPad Style Control Panel

I spent more time driving this Volvo than normal because the XC90 arrived the same week the Indycar finale played itself out at Sonoma Raceway. So I commuted between home and the race track for three days in a row, and also spent a fair amount of down time between sessions inside the Volvo’s beautifully appointed, spacious cabin. You couldn’t ask for a more comfortable SUV than this particular Volvo.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

But you have to be willing to take the big plunge on option packages to duplicate the model I enjoyed. While the XC90′s base price is reasonable ($54,050), Volvo slathered the sticker with enough options ($19,045) to buy a another car. Honda’s Fit, for example retails for as little as $16,090. Here’s the breakdown of optional equipment on the test XC90: Inscription Features ($5,100), Convenience Package ($1,950), Luxury Package ($3,150), Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound ($3,200), Air Suspension ($1,800), Tailored Dash ($1,000), plus 5 other dingers costing under a grand apiece. Let’s assess the importance of each optional contribution.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

The most beneficial elements among the Inscription Features are “Active Bending Lights,” LED lasers powerful enough to ferret out deer hiding in the woods at night. If this Volvo doesn’t have the best night beams in the universe, than nothing does. Inscription also provides heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats, handsomely set off by matte walnut inlays on the dash face, center console and door panels . The Convenience Package contributes a 360 degree camera system and Park Assist front and rear. The Luxury Package is worth its steep price because it includes backrest massagers for both front seats that provided much needed therapy after long days hoofing around Sonoma Raceway.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

My initial appreciation of the XC90 was rather tepid thanks to Volvo’s unnecessarily complicated “Sensus Connect” protocol that channels virtually every control command through a series of menus illuminated on a 9 inch touchscreen on the dash. Need to change the temperature? Better bring up the correct screen for your side of the vehicle. Need to change the fan setting? Ditto. And so on and so forth, through the endless series of finger manipulations required to get this Volvo to do what you want it to do. The whole process is needlessly complicated and annoying, and at the very least, Volvo should install hard buttons for critical commands like the fan and temp settings.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

After a couple of days frustration, I sort of got the hang of the Sensus Connect system. You should be aware, however, that the “Complimentary 6 Month/3GB Subscription” to the Sensus WiFi Hot-Spot will cost you $10/month to renew or $20/month for unlimited data usage. 2018 Volvos now provide Apple CarPlay/Android Auto without the additional charge that characterized previous Volvo policy. The Bowers and Wilkins stereo unit makes a sharp contribution not only to your ringing ears, but also your eyes, since all the speaker mounting plates are fabricated from matte aluminum and deftly inscribed with the Bowers and Wilkins logo. Combined with the contrasting stitching of the “Tailored Dash,” the interior of the Inscription Volvo is a real showplace.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

From a driver’s standpoint, however, the XC90 leaves something to be desired. Clearly Volvo didn’t lavish any visual attention on the engine compartment, which is covered with a funereal flat black plastic shroud. There is nothing to alert you to the fact that this is a milestone engine design, with both turbocharging and supercharging working in consort to produce 316hp from just 2.0 liters of 4 cylinder motor. Coupled to an 8-speed automatic gearbox unfortunately devoid of paddle shifts, the XC90′s power train is hard pressed to motivate this 4,595 pound SUV with alacrity. Each one of those 316 ponies is tasked with moving 14.5 pounds, not a scintillating power-to-weight ratio. The shortfall shows up when you need to make a speedy lane change on the freeway, or initiate a pass on a two-lane back road. However, the XC90 does acquit itself well in handling tasks thanks largely to optional air suspension at all 4 corners and massive 275/40R21 Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires mounted on $800 optional 21″ 8-spoke Diamond Cut Alloy Wheels.

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

2018 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, Direct Injection, Super and Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 316@5700rpm
  • Torque: 295lb.-ft.@2200rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 20MPG City/27MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $74,090
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR Review

Thursday October 19th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

Hypes: Ultimate Street Fighter Born Again
Gripes: Lack of Rear Wiper, Menu Driven HVAC

Honda scores a perfect 10 out of 10 on this latest iteration of the evergreen Civic Si. I speak from long term ownership experience here because I bought the very first generation Civic Si when Honda introduced it as a 2 door hatchback in 1987. It was an outstanding performance car 30 years ago and a much better one today. If you like to wear your heart on your sleeve, order one in Energy Green and no one will ever lose track of you, since this shade of chartreuse is brighter than a Cal Trans worker’s vest. The downside of Energy Green is that no police officer will miss you either.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

The beauty of the Civic Si package is apparent from the moment you grab the wheel and sense the precision feedback available from the minimally boosted electronic power steering. Honda has achieved a level of refinement here by which all other cars should be measured. Turn the wheel an inch and the car moves exactly one inch. With this fine tuned registration, you can place the Si with unerring accuracy. You have no excuse for missing an apex when driving hard. The rest of the suspension system is equally well calibrated to get the job done. Front MacPherson strut architecture combines well with multi-link independent rear design to provide a supple yet precise ride. Honda does not stint in supplying just the right tires for ultimate cornering grip, with Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber (235/40R18) refusing to lose contact with the pavement thanks to a super soft treadwear rating of TW 240 and an extra sticky traction rating of AA.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

All the grip in the world wouldn’t matter much if the Si didn’t have the drivetrain to make
the grip work for a living. In the Si’s case, the tiny 1.5 liter inline 4 receives a healthy
dose of turbo boost every time you light the accelerator. This 205hp motor passes its
power through a limited slip differential which parcels out power to just the front wheels.
As an added incentive, you get to choose exactly which of the 6 speeds in the
transmission is optimal for a given situation because the Si is equipped with a manual
transmission only. If you don’t enjoy shifting and clutching, then find yourself a
different Honda. If, on the other hand, you love to shift, the Si will be your best friend
for life. Clutch action is light and precise. shift throws short and buttery. The Si really
scoots when you’ve got everything hooked up: right gear, on the boost, sticky tires. Few
cars will beat it on a curvy road, and none in its price range.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

Inside, cabin design celebrates Honda’s endless years of perfecting track worthy cars. The Si-embroidered cloth seats are a masterpiece of comfort and support: not so high-sided as to make entry and egress problematic, but sufficiently bolstered to keep you planted when those Goodyears do their thing. The instrument module is dominated, in true racer fashion, not by a speedometer, but by a huge backlit tachometer face reading to 8000rpm. Of course, you’ll never get near that number, as the little Honda mill is redlined at 7000rpm, a number which comes up so quick that you have to be on your toes for each upshift. In other words, the Si is a fun challenge to drive well, the kind of delightful game partner sporting drivers find ever less frequently these days.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

The best part of the Si deal is its exceptionally reasonable price tag, with a list of just $24,100, and an out-the-door figure of $24,975. About the only thing you might need that’s missing here is a Navigation System. In the would-be-nice department, the flat rear window really cries out for a standard wiper, and the digital display for climate control is menu-driven and distracting. Another annoying habit that has made it through 3 decades of Civic Si build-out: when you flip the front seat backs forward to throw something into the back seat area, the front seats always returns to their full upright position rather than the setting previously selected.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

But what a short gripe list this Honda carries. It is without question the premier affordable/ practical sports car today, a pocket rocket that actually does double duty as a useful everyday hatchback. You really can’t ask for more, and we’re thrilled that Honda has decided to reinvent this scintillating icon.

2017 Honda Civic Si 2DR

  • Engine: 1.5 liter Direct Injection, Turbocharged Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 205hp
  • Torque: 192lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/38MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,975
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Review

Wednesday October 18th, 2017 at 1:1010 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Hypes: Exquisite Interior Detailing, Responsive Handling
Gripes: Obtuse Infotainment GUI, Manual Hood Lift

During the recent unprecedented heat wave in Northern California I took refuge from our non air conditioned house inside Mazda’s plushest SUV, the Signature edition CX-9. With the air conditioning cranked down to 60 degrees, I spent enough time in this 3 row, 7 passenger SUV to appreciate fully the comfort and beauty of its cabin design. The Signature edition is Mazda’s top offering in the CX-9 model line, with real aluminum embellishing real rosewood everywhere you look. The Signature’s luxurious matte finished wood comes from Fujigen, the Japanese guitar maker. This interior quality substantiates Mazda’s television commercials showing artisans finessing steering wheel leather and fashioning rosewood accent panels. Everything about the CX-9 Signature reeks quality and care of construction.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

My stint in the cool cabin also gave me the unaccustomed opportunity to become well acquainted with the CX-9′s arcane dial-controlled infotainment system. After a half hour of self-motivated study, I reluctantly concluded that this dial and screen pony show is way too difficult to learn, let alone master. Even the simplest entertainment requests require much dial twisting and bumping to accomplish. The standard navigation system is somewhat easier to operate, and rather more logical in its demands. Since all this proved confusing and obtuse from the passenger’s seat of a stationary CX-9, I can only imagine how much concentration it would demand while actually driving.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Fortunately, the act of driving the CX-9 is ever so much more pleasurable than trying to retune its infotainment complex. Under that long snout of a hood (heavy and unequipped with hydraulic struts) lies a very impressive engine. Of modest size (inline 4) and displacement (2.5 liters), this turbocharged torque maker produces a surprising 310lb.-ft. of motivation, good for a two rating of 3,500 pounds. But its horsepower rating of 227hp remains rather modest for a 4,585lb. vehicle. You can up horsepower output to 250hp by spending extra for hi-octane fuel. There’s really no need to do so, however, as the CX-9, at 227hp, moved out smartly thanks to its compliant and smooth shifting 6-speed gearbox. Though you can do the manual gear dance with the shift lever on the console, paddles at the wheel would have been nicer. However, you can control the gearbox shift points by selecting “Sport” on the console mounted mode switch.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

As you might expect from the company that still builds the world’s number one affordable sports car/race car (The MX-5 Miata), the CX-9 stints on absolutely nothing when it comes to suspension, brakes, wheels or contact patch. Take suspension, for example, which is fully independent front and rear for a leech-like grip on the road and a plush ride in the cabin. The electronic power assisted steering provides solid road surface feedback, and the Signature’s standard 20 inch alloy rims second the motion through the substantial footprints of the Falken Ziex CT50 AS tires, which measure 255/50R20 at each corner. Standard anti-sway bars front and rear are another Mazda hallmark that insure flat cornering in tight turns. While I wouldn’t put the CX-9 in the Miata class for sheer driving fun, compared to most elephantine SUVs in this 3-row class, it’s a joy to drive.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

In addition to its athletic prowess as a sporty driver, the CX-9 does duty as a pack horse with room to spare. For example, if you drop the pair of rear seats, plus the 60/40 second row, you open up 34 cubic feet of interior storage. If you need more than that, you should be looking at Chevy Suburbans or Silverado pickup trucks. Now that it’s getting oppressively hot inside my house again, it’s time to seek refuge once again inside the welcoming, ritzy, comfy cabin of that Machine Gray ($300 option) over Auburn leather (standard) Mazda lurking in my driveway this week.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4 Skyactive turbo
  • Horsepower: 227-250hp
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,655
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD Review

Tuesday October 17th, 2017 at 9:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

Hypes: Does Everything Well
Gripes: Stickier Tires Would Improve Handling

You have to love an SUV with a list price of $35,650 that carries the notation “Included” 37 times on its window sticker. Unlike many other manufacturers, such inclusionary generosity is par for the course at Hyundai. On a cold and dreary week by the seaside in Northern California, my favorite “included” item was the heater for the front seats and steering wheel. That steering wheel warmer turns itself on each time you re-start the Santa Fe. It’s a small detail, but one that a lot of other car companies need to learn: you don’t have to reconfigure your car every time you restart it.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

Hyundai has quite an assortment of Santa Fe configurations available for 2018. There are two model lines, one with 3 seating rows providing 7 seats (Santa Fe) and one with two rows providing 5 seats (Santa Fe Sport). All 7 seat Santa Fe models use a 290hp V6, while all Sport models use either a base 2.4 liter inline 4 (185hp) or a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline 4 (260hp) fitted to our test Sport. All versions of both models utilize an excellent 6 speed automatic gearbox. Our turbo Sport proved exceptionally lively, with more than enough power to break the front wheels loose under full throttle acceleration from a standing start. If you need All Wheel Drive, the Sport is available with such a system which will tame the front axle wheelspin we experienced. The transmission features a floor mounted select lever which permits individual gear ratio choice and retention. Hyundai calls this very effective control mechanism “Shiftronic” and conjoins it to a Drive Mode selector that also tailors shift points to normal or sport oriented driving styles.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

At a curb weight of just 3,760 lb., the 5 seat Sport is significantly lighter than its bigger sibling, the 7 seat Santa Fe (4,210 lb.). This weight reduction contributes to the Sport’s solid handling on twisting two lane roads. 235/55R19 mud and snow rated Kumho Crugen radials, mounted on 19 inch alloy rims, with a treadwear rating of 440, yield good but not great traction while maintaining a comfortable ride. The airy cabin offers excellent sight lines to all quarters, and the standard panoramic sunroof exposes both front and rear seat occupants to plenty of sky and fresh air. Hyundai instituted several safety improvements to the Sport for 2017, which resulted in improving its IIHS small overlap crash protection rating from Marginal to Good.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

Our test Sport enjoyed further safety augmentation from a $1,600 “Ultimate Tech Package” that provided Smart Cruise Control with Stop/Start, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Electronic Parking Brake, and swiveling head lights called Dynamic Bending Lights. The Electronic Parking Brake proved easy to use because it was well positioned on the center console between the front seats. The Lane Departure Warning proved more annoying than helpful because it chirped loudly and incessantly even when we were well clear of adjacent traffic.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

The rear seats split into a 40/20/40 fold pattern. You can drop them flat by lifting a large lever attached to their base, though you may have to slide the front seats forward to clear the back headrests. Doing so opens a vast amount of space for storage, with 35.5 cubic feet of cargo room available with the rear seats dropped. We managed to carry a full size bicycle back there, with plenty of room to spare for 6 bags of grocery goods at the same time. The rear hatch opens with the touch of a button on the remote fob, and shuts with the push of a button located on the edge of the rear liftgate.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport proved itself to be an adept and resourceful companion on a daily basis. It was plenty fast, economical enough, and ingeniously well thought out. All the cabin controls work so well you never have to give their design or placement a second thought. Clearly, the engineers at Hyundai are well versed in making the complexities of the modern SUV convenient, straight forward and intelligible. You really can’t ask for a more amenable beast of burden than the latest turbocharged version of the Santa Fe Sport.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, gasoline direct injection
  • Horsepower: 240hp @6000rpm
  • Torque: 260lb.-ft. @1450-3500rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,325
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Hyundai |Tags:, , || No Comments »


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